Full disclosure: There are so many good series on TV right now that it's all but impossible to keep up with all of them. That sentiment might run counter to a lot of the complaints you see in this space, and while those complaints are true (e.g., Two and a Half Men is far too popular), they tend to dilute the fact that we're living in a great age for television. This is especially true when you consider cable offerings, which make it easier to see cutting-edge dramas and comedies that the networks avoid.
All that said: There's no way this list will remotely due justice to all the good shows out there. Your favorite show might not be on the list. I ask only a little leniency as you remember that coming up with the best five episodes was like choosing between children, only tougher, because kids don't respond to the TiVo remote. Trust me: tough calls were made.
Let's do this!
5. "Days Gone Bye," The Walking Dead Yes, the first season of The Walking Dead occasionally trafficked in some groan-inducing clichés that were probably a lot easier to write than real characters. (Rednecks love hunting; black guys wear Kangol hats and call themselves T-Dog; etc.) But the pilot episode, "Days Gone Bye," was flat-out fantastic. Setting the tone from the first moments with a gruesome killing of a child zombie, the episode relied heavily on silence and mood to convey the horror of what it means to survive the apocalypse. Great, sparing action, coupled with an awesome premise, made it one of the best pilots in recent memory. Here's hoping next season keeps the faith.
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4. "Modern Warfare," Community I don't care if people think this is a predictable choice; haters can walk. There have been some amazing episodes in the second half of Community's first season and the beginning of its second, but "Modern Warfare" packed the most punch. It showed just how far the show could go by playing with the sitcom format without losing sight of the characters who make it work. Even amid the crazy action (ably directed by Justin Lin), the human story between Jeff and Britta completely clicks. The series was already great, but this is the half-hour that made it a classic.
3. "The Son," Friday Night Lights This episode first aired on DirecTV last December, but it hit NBC in June, so I'm counting it for 2010. Zach Gilford has had some standout moments as Matt Saracen, the beleaguered young quarterback turned reluctant hero on Friday Night Lights, most of which have revolved around his contentious relationship with a father off fighting in Iraq who never seemed to make time for him. "The Son" followed Matt as he dealt with (spoiler, but you should know that) his father's death, and Gilford acted the hell out of it. The show has always, always been about the people playing the game in this tiny Texas town, and "The Son" brought it all home in a great way.
2. "Long in the Tooth," Justified Don't forget about Justified. FX's late-spring series, which aired its first season from March to June of this year, was a wonderful modern Western that struck a nice balance between serialized story lines and crook-of-the-week pieces that made Marshal Raylan Givens feel like a pulp hero from another era. "Long in the Tooth" featured great guest casting with Alan Ruck and a story that probed the complex moral code the show would continue to explore all season. (I.e., Good men can do bad things for noble reasons.) Timothy Olyphant is so cool it should be illegal. If you missed it the first time around, check this show out. The new season debuts next year.
1. "Telethon," Parks and Recreation The second season of Parks and Recreation was a comic joy to behold, and installments like "Telethon" confirm its place as one of the best comedies on the air right now. It's one of those great sandbox episodes where everyone gets to play, and the charity telethon lets all the characters trot out their own weird traits as they try to pull off an impossible event. (Plus it has Detlef Schrempf!) The romantic plots got their due, too -- Ann and Mark moved closer to their inevitable break-up, while Andy and April continued their adorable flirting -- and there was even a great callback to the "Sweetums" episode with the power bars Leslie ate to try and stay awake. All in all, a great piece of TV.